Skip navigation

Category Archives: miscellaneous

Machines based around the socket 4 Pentium-60 and 66 make for a fairly fun and unique DOS computer. They have the FPU power of the Pentium yet are slow enough that they will run most DOS games meant for the ubiquitous 486-66DX2. As neat as a socket 4 system is (If you want to read about one check out an article I wrote on the subject here) They can be pretty expensive and hard to find these days. The earliest Pentiums also have their fair share of quirks and can be unreliable. With this project I wanted to make a Pentium based system as cheap as possible and as close to the performance as possible to the original Pentium-60 and Pentium-66. The main goal of this PC will be to play early 90’s 2D DOS games and applications as well as early Windows games. Of course a lot of this can be achieved with a faster CPU and slow down programs or disabling various caches in BIOS to slow down a CPU but that’s not really my style so were going to create a PC based around the next logical option if you can’t acquire a socket 4 board which is the Pentium-75.

The Pentium-75 was released in September of 1994 for the new socket 5 but it is also compatible with the newer socket 7 form factor when it was later released. Unlike the 5v Pentium-60 and 66 the Pentium-75 ran on 3.3v and was cooler running and much more reliable. That said with this build we are going for a mostly 1994-95 look and feel for this project. My focus is using mostly period parts when I can for a decent DOS and Windows 3.1/95 PC with an emphasis on 2D gaming rather then early 3D. I’m not necessarily trying to make this project an “ultimate” build for the era, just something that feels appropriate. This also lets me experiment with different hardware.

The case I decided to use for this project is a little beat up but I think it has the right look for this machine and I wanted to go with a desktop style for this build. I would of liked to add a 5 1/4 1.2mb floppy drive but unfortunately the holding brackets for the two vertical 3 1/2 bays are missing so I could not mount anything for them forcing me to use only the three 5 1/4 bays. I had to use the middle bay to mount the hard drive as no other space was available for mounting. I wish I had another one of those 1.4mb / 1.2mb combo floppy drives or 3 1/3 floppy / CD combo drives available. The HDD I’m using is a older drive of about 3gb, thankfully the BIOS in on this motherboard supports larger drives and I am able to use a full 2gb in DOS.  I did go with a newer 32x CD drive since I can’t find any IDE CD drives from that time frame in my stash that work but this drive operates just fine if not a bit loud. I’ve also adjusted the jumpers on the frontal LED display to illuminate a pleasant “75” when power is turned on via the power button. Under the LED display are two more buttons for turbo and reset. Turbo features rarely if ever work with Pentium CPU’s and not to long after the 486 era the jumpers stopped appearing on motherboards.

Nothing special about the rear of this case and it’s mostly as one would expect from an AT style case.

Taking off the cover reveals the innards of this particular PC. I originally wanted to go with Socket 5 for this build but lacking a working socket 5 board I opted for a slightly newer AT style socket 7 board. I suspect running this chip on a socket 5 board possibly would of given slower results but this of course depends on boards and chipsets. Even though the faster Pentium-75 has an advantage of a slightly newer architecture and a 9mhz clock bump I was very curious how much of an effect the lower 50mhz FSB of the Pentium-75 with a 1.5 multiplier would have on it compared to the Pentium-66 running on its 66mhz FSB.

As you can see above there is no way to mount anything at the two 3 1/2 cutouts.

The Motherboard I’m using for this build is an Aptron International PM-8600. This is an AT style Socket 7 board with 512kb of L2 cache on the motherboard as well as supporting up to 512MB of EDO RAM in either 72 or 168 pin slots. There is built in support for four IDE devices via an ATA-33 controller. The board also sports four 16-bit ISA and four PCI slots for expansion. I feel the overall look and capabilities of this board fit the mid 90’s era we’re shooting for.

Now that we know the motherboard we are using for this project lets take a look at the other components.

CPU – Obviously the CPU we are using is the Intel Pentium-75mhz. This CPU came out in 1994 and was really seen as the first reliable and “serious” Pentium chip as the earlier Pentium 60/66 chips had issues with reliability and heat. This CPU should be as fast as the fastest 486 chips with superior FPU performance. The Pentium-75 operates on a lower 50mhz FSB utilizing a 1.5 multiplier as opposed to the 60 and 66mhz FSB of the earlier Pentiums running at the same speed as the FSB.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

some models of the Pentium-75s came with the same gold top as the earlier Pentium 60/66. even though with a mounted heatsink/fan this makes no aesthetic difference compared to a Pentium with a ceramic top I happened to have a gold top CPU so this is what I used in this build.

RAM – The PM-8600 board supports both 72 pin DRAM as well as 168 pin SDRAM RAM as well as the faster EDO RAM variant. I went with 32mb of 72 pin EDO RAM for my build. 32mb is more then enough memory in most cases for the 94/95 era. Using 168 pin SDRAM is likely much easier to find, faster and cheaper then 72 pin so it’s nice to have that option for those looking to construct a similar build but I opted for the older 72 pin variant simply due to the fact I had extra in my stash and it gave the machine a more internally oldschool look.

Video – For a video card in this PC I wanted to experiment a little and try a few different cards outside of my “go to” cards. I also wanted to specifically go for a 2D PCI card without any 3D capabilities as in the mid 90’s combined 2D/3D cards hadn’t completely taken off yet and many early PCI cards were produced that were 2D only though you could pair them with early 3D accelerator cards like the Voodoo 1 and 2.

The video card I went with for this build ended up being the ATI Mach64 released in 1994. Despite the Mach64 being one of the more sought after ISA and VLB cards the PCI implementation as my chart will show shortly is certainly not the fastest early PCI card but it is pretty well known.

As I mentioned earlier I wasn’t necessarily going for the “best” parts for this era and I did want to experiment a little. ATI whom eventually was bought out by AMD is known for making some pretty good video cards throughout the 1980’s and 90’s and the Mach32 and 64 were known to be pretty decent 2D accelerator cards when running in Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. As for DOS games the Mach64 scored dead last in my benchmarks when put up against several other 2D PCI cards from the era.

Benchmarks performed on the Aptron International PM-8600 motherboard with a Pentium-90mhz. ATI Mach32 also tested but statistically identical to Mach64. All tests done using “vanilla” results without the aid of enhancement programs such as FastDOS

In all of my benchmarks the Mach64 fell behind similar offerings from Tseng Labs, IGS and S3. I have also read sources that claim the Mach32/64 cards have hit or miss compatibility with certain DOS titles producing graphical glitches. Though this is true with all cards with S3’s offerings widely sighted as the king when it comes to compatibility the Mach32/64 series and ATI cards in general may be a little worse overall. So far with my own testing I have seen no graphical issues though the number of games I’ve tested have been relatively small. As mentioned earlier though usage in Windows 3.1 and 95 should be good. I can confirm myself that when using the card under Windows performance in the GUI felt snappy.

Keep in mind like many cards there were variations of the Mach64 offering more and faster video RAM as well as minor chip revisions. There seems to be at least eight major chipset variations for the Mach64. I have the GX variant which offers enhanced video playback capabilities over the original card. I went with this card despite the alleged deficiencies because overall it still performs adequately and I was not going for a power machine. In the case of this build the slower FPS produced by the Mach64 actually helps to keep this machine in line with our late 486 era / Pentium-66 performance goals.

Sound – I really struggled with choosing a sound card for this system as I wanted something that felt correct for the era but I also wanted to experiment a little with different cards. In the end though I went with a good old Sound Blaster 16 CT1740. This is an older SB16 with manual jumpers to configure settings and a dial to control volume. The CT1740 is a fairly “noisy” card so prepare for buzzing at higher volumes as well as an assortment of “pops” now and then during game play. despite the “noisiness” I find myself liking it very much and it tends to “just work” with very minimal setup hassle. The card features a true OPL FM chip for FM synth and has pretty good compatibility with older games that supported the Sound Blaster Pro. Usually the CT1470 is free of the dreaded hanging midi bug though mine has DSP ver 4.7 so unfortunately mine does, though I was able to get around this by adding a midi card which we will take a look at next.

The empty socket is for the ASP chip and the vast majority of older Sound Blasters seem to lack this chip. The capabilities of this chip were only used in one game to the best of my knowledge. That game being the 1993 DOS title TFX: Tactical Fighter Experimental, so we’re not really missing out on much due to its absence. You can check here to get a guide on how to set your jumpers to fit your requirements.

MIDI – When it comes to midi, whether using a wavetable board or an external module my CT1470 does have a few issues. One is since my card does have a later DSP version it does suffer from hanging midi notes though keep in mind that cards with DSP version 4.5 and lower will be bug free. The other issue with all of the Sound Blaster cards is that they do not support games that require “intelligent mode” which includes many high profile games. There are software solutions such as SoftMPU but this creates a small amount of processing overhead and I just tend to prefer hardware solutions when available. Midi support in my opinion is pretty important for this PC since a huge amount of games supported MT-32 and General Midi standards by the mid 1990’s.

The midi card I had available and opted to install in this machine is the Music Quest MQX-32m.

Music Quest MQX-32m with dongle

The MQX-32m is a Roland MPU compatible midi clone card meaning that it basically works just like if you were using a true midi card from Roland. I run this card along side the sound blaster to handle all my midi needs via external midi modules while the Sound Blaster 16 handles digital effects as well as FM synth. The MQX-32m supports games that require intelligent mode and suffers from no hanging midi bugs. It is important to note that this clone card is not 100% compatible and some Origin games such as Wing Commander will lock up when you attempt to run them using this card. Since the focus of this build is later games (due to the high CPU speed Wing Commander would be unplayable on this machine anyways) I’m not very concerned with the compatibility and this card should work fine with just about every game this PC is intended for.

The MQX-32m is a very interesting card as it supports many features and even has two Zilog Z80 chips for dual midi output. The bulk of these features though many of which I have no idea what they do are more geared to music applications so for our purposes it’s good enough that the card supports intelligent mode midi and solves all our midi issues that using the Sound Blaster alone would of created. I currently have my MQX-32m configured as address 330 and IRQ 2, being careful to not conflict with my Sound Blaster 16 card settings. a chart detailing how to set the DIP switches to select those settings can be found here.

So now that we have looked over all our hardware how does this machine perform and also how does its performance stack up to my socket 4 66mhz PC? Lets take a look at the benchmarks.

As we can see from the benchmarks that despite a slightly lower overall Front Side Bus the newer Pentium-75 pulls ahead in all tests. In games though the performance boost isn’t terribly noticeable as the boost is generally around or under 5 FPS. In some games where the FPS is lower like Quake the extra 5 FPS is far more noticeable then say DOOM where both machines are pulling 30+ FPS. Synthetic benchmarks tend to favor the Pentium-75 more but those kind of results are usually expected from synthetics. As I mentioned earlier you can get somewhat different results depending on what motherboards you use but I feel results will generally follow the trend above. These results seem to indicate that gaming on a Pentium-75 machine should give a more or less similar experience to gaming on a Pnetium-66 machine without the headaches and with significantly lower cost involved.

For some more comparisons I decided to also make a chart including results from my Pentium-66 PC with my preferred PCI ET6000 card installed.

From looking at the tests the ET600 makes a pretty big difference and in many places helps close the gap with the Pentium-75 machine. Gains in Quake are very modest which makes sense as I believe that game to be more CPU intensive then video card. I wasn’t able to test the card in the Pentium-75 PC due to the fact that when installed the machine failed to move past POST and would produce a black screen regardless of how I manipulated settings in the BIOS. The card did work when I had a faster Pentium-90 installed and although I haven’t gone back and reinstalled that CPU to test this theory my best guess is that my ET6000 just doesn’t like the 50mhz FSB the board uses with a Pentium-75 installed. Interestingly my S3 cards also fail to work on this board when a Pentium-75 is installed while my ATI Mach cards as well as my IGS card work flawlessly.

Overall I think this machine achieves its goal of being a mid 90’s PC very well and comes very close to approximating the feel and performance of an original Pentium with none of the fuss. Of course the video card can be upgraded to a faster 2D card or even a 3D card if you so choose. I find performance with early 90’s titles like Doom and Wolfenstein 3d to be rather good. Even games like Quake can be somewhat playable at lower resolutions if sub 30 frame rates don’t bother you to much. I’ve also been playing a lot of slower paced strategy games like Panzer General on this machine which it handles perfectly. I have found even a Pentium-90 plays the movie clips in Panzer General a bit to fast but on the Pentium-75 everything seems to play at the correct speeds and game play is very fluid. Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 feel fairly snappy to navigate overall and I haven’t run into any major issues.

There isn’t any super compelling reasons to specifically build a Pentium-75 PC on its own if all you want is a retro game machine. If you want a more classic PC for retro gaming then a 486 system is advised and if you want a retro rig with a little more power then why not go for a Pentium-133 or 166mhz with a 3d capable card? That said if you want to build one just for the experience or maybe due to nostalgia for a 75mhz PC you had in earlier years it will still make a very serviceable retro machine capable of playing a large amount of games from the later DOS and early Windows years.

 

Advertisements

Mention of the Pentium 4 is commonly met with disgust from a certain portion of techies, the Pentium III was a far superior CPU they will tell you. Tech reviews from the time seem to affirm this and the early Pentium 4’s looked to be outperformed by both AMD’s Athlon XP chips and the older Intel Pentium 3 but how bad really was the early Pentium 4?

Its actually not that uncommon for a new CPU architecture to be outdone by the last models of the previous generation. There are several examples of this in the history of CPU development. For instance the AMD 386DX-40 was faster then the early 486’s and late 486 chips like the AMD 133mhz 5×86 (a 486 in all but name) easily outshines the original Pentiums. Why then is there such distaste for the first generation of “Willamette” core Pentium 4 CPUs? When Intel developed the Pentium 4 they used a new architecture called NetBurst which differed from the P6 architecture of the Pentium II and III before it. Many felt Intel would of done better to continue to evolve the P6 architecture and that NetBurst was good for gaining higher mhz numbers (which consumers paid attention to) but not giving better performance relative to those numbers. Once the Northwood cores hit the market in 2ghz+ speeds performance of the Pentium 4 became quite good but I believe most of the hate for the Pentium 4 is centered around those early Socket 423 Willamette core P4’s and these are what I wanted to test. Were the Willamette Pentiums 4s as bad as they say?

Before we start the article proper though I want to make a point very clear. This article is ONLY focusing on the Willamette based Pentium 4 as it operated with high end era correct parts within the end of 2000 and into 2001. It is not meant to represent the overall Pentium 4 line such as later Northwood, Prescott ect… chip revisions. It is also not meant to represent the full potential of the 1.5ghz Willamette CPU, as in using overpowered GPU’s and drivers from much later time periods as not to bottleneck the CPU. One example of this would be taking the machine below and installing a Geforce 6 or 7, a GPU released far after the 1.5ghz Willamette and then seeing how it performs. Also please keep in mind software optimized for the Pentium 4 and thus taking advantage of SSE2 instructions was not widely available in 2000/2001 which is the time period we are looking at for this build.

I frequently read about how the Pentium III easily stomped the Willamette based Pentium 4 CPUs in performance and I wanted to test this myself. To this end I decided to build the ultimate year 2000 Pentium 4 machine. The Pentium 4 did come out in late 2000 but probably wasn’t readily available to consumers until 2001 but I thought it would be fun create a year 2000 specific machine using the best parts that money could buy at the time. I’d like to think maybe it could of been a very expensive high end Christmas present assembled in December of 2000.

p4w1

For a case I just went with a beige white case that I felt was very representative of the time. I kept things pretty simple with bay drives and limited my build to a pretty standard 1.44mb floppy drive as well as a DVD drive manufactured in 1999. At this point CD-ROM drives would of still been very common but I went with DVD since that would of been the high end and they were widely available in 2000. I believe this drive is a x12 speed but x16 speed drives were available. For a hard drive I’m using a ATA-100 40gb Quantum Fireball AS drive from early 2000.

Motherboard – Obviously the star of this build is going to be the socket 423 motherboard. Socket 423 was the original socket for the Pentium 4 and was a very short lived socket type only being in production a very short time before the Pentium 4 moved on to socket 478. Because of this, socket 423 boards tend to be pretty hard to find these days and can command a high price on the internet. Socket 423 supported the 1.3ghz to 2.0ghz Willamette based Pentium 4s. Intel quickly realized this socket was not adequate for higher clocked CPU’s so it was ditched fairly quickly for socket 478.

The motherboard I choose was the Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board largely on the bases of its availability to me to purchase and its unconventional look with RAM placement. The QDI Plantinix motherboard features RIMM slots for RDRAM (will get to that shortly) as well as an AGP x4 slot and an Intel 850 chipset.

1 ) Usually I mark the PSU connector as an afterthought but socket 423 is actually a bit picky about its power supplies. Socket 423 boards along with a standard 20 pin and 4 pin ATX +12 volt connector requires a supply with a 6 pin AUX power connector. It kind of looks like one half of an old AT power connector and plugs in next to the 20 pin connector.

This connector is necessary to properly power the socket 423 board and CPU. It’s not a very common connector to find on power supplies but I had the most luck searching under “Pentium 4 PSU” in eBay searches. These power supplies will all be fairly old at this point like mine and I had to go through 2 supplies to get a working unit. I failed to find an adapter to add an AUX connection to a more modern supply but they may exist.

2 ) CPU – Socket 423 supported all the Willamette CPUs which were produced in speeds of 1.3ghz to 2ghz. In 2000 only two Pentium 4s were available, the 1.4ghz and 1.5ghz version. The slowest 1.3ghz CPU interestingly was not released until very early January 2001. Originally I used a 1.3ghz CPU as seen in the image below just to see how slow the slowest P4 actually was but later decided to upgrade to the 1.5ghz model after discovering the performance difference in games was only 1-3 FPS in most cases and to make a truer year 2000 machine.

Except for the 200mhz speed difference and indication of clock speed on the chip the 1.3ghz CPU shown above and the 1.5ghz CPU installed on my motherboard look exactly the same. All Willamette P4s have 256kb of full speed  L2 cache on die which is the same as most of the Pentium III CPUs (exceptions being some of the Tualatin models and the early slot 1 Pentium III’s which had 512kb of half speed L2 cache). Later the L2 cache would be bumped up to 512kb on the Northwoods and even higher on later model P4 chips.

Socket 423 CPUs are rather large coming in a little bigger then a Coppermine Pentium III and much bigger then the later Northwood P4 as seen below

(CPU’s from left to right, Coppermine Pentium III, Willamette Pentium 4, Northwood Pentium 4)

3 ) RAM – Most socket 423 boards also used an unusual and (in the realm of consumer PC motherboards) short lived RAM type known as RDRAM or Rambus DRAM. RDRAM was expected to be the next PC memory standard replacing SDRAM  but was eventually beaten by DDR memory. In the days of the early Pentium 4 though Intel had licensed the use of RDRAM with its chipsets so RIMM slots (Rambus in-line Memory Module) showed up on many socket 423 boards. Also to note is that even though RDRAM is primarily associated with early Pentium 4 motherboards it can also be found on a few Pentium III PC’s such as the Dell Dimension XPS B733r.

RDRAM was both very expensive and ran quite hot. It was so pricey that Intel had to subsidies it and include it with certain motherboards. It also required a heat spreader be attached due to the heat it produced. It was found that the relatively small performance increase in some areas did not justify the cost and RDRAM was quickly replaced in the coming years by DDR which in general was faster, cheaper and ran cooler.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x board supports up to 2GB of RDRAM but since I’m going to be running Windows 98se I’m only going to a max of 512mb via four PC800 128mb sticks.

The Legend QDI Plantinix 4x has one of the most unusual RAM slot orientations I’ve seen in a post 1980’s motherboard with two slots being in a typical close side by side configuration close to the CPU and another slot spaced further away with a fourth slot being completely perpendicular to the other three. I’m not sure why they went with this setup other then maybe as a space saving feature. This board is also very picky about RAM as well as placement and sizes. RDRAM requires it be installed in sets of two and any unused slots require a “CRIMM” or dummy RAM be inserted as a terminator.

4 ) CNR Slot – CNR or Communications and Networking Riser was another Pentium 4 era slot that was quickly phased out of personnel computers. It was primarily intended for networking and audio cards.

5) IDE – Two ATA-100 IDE connectors for connecting IDE devices (two devices each) like hard drives and CD/DVD ROM drives.

6) Floppy – standard floppy drive connector.

Now for my sound and video card selections for the top of the line in 2000.

Sound – For a sound card I went with the Creative Sound Blaster Live! which was sort of the default sound card of the time.

The card I have installed in the Value version manufactured in 2000 but other then lacking an extended I/O connector and having color coded ports as opposed to gold is identical to the regular version. The Live! cards also supported EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions) 1.0 and 2.0 which many games of the time supported. An Aureal based card would of been another sound option but I feel the Live! cards are a little more compatible feature wise and more representative of 2000.

Video – Finally we have the graphics card. This was actually a very easy decision as the top dog of 2000 was easily the Geforce 2 Ultra.

The AGP x4 Geforce 2 Ultra was pretty much unanimously sighted as the most powerful graphics card of 2000 and in some circumstances even proved faster then the initial Geforce 3 card that preceded it. The Ultra came with 32mb of video memory and was clocked higher then the base model GF2 GTS and GF2 Pro beating out both of the competing Voodoo 5500 and Radeon DDR cards.

One thing to note is that finding a Geforce 2 Ultra can sometimes be a challenge since they can be sought after but also because certain other Geforce cards can almost look identical.

So with that out of the way lets look at some benchmarks to see if the Willamette Pentium 4 really does drag this beast of a year 2000 machine down. To compare I wanted to use a fairly contemporary machine so I choose my Dell Dimension 4100 from 2001 as the competition. This PC will be running the exact same video and sound card as the Pentium 4 PC. The CPU I have installed is a 1ghz Coppermine Pentium III released in 2000 and also using the old P6 CPU architecture.

Both machines are also using the same video drivers (version 45.23) as well as Power Strip 2.78 in order to disable Vsync. Driver version 45.23 are later drivers from around 2003 but unfortunately drivers from 2000 were giving me direct x errors and to be honest I didn’t feel like dealing with it. differences should be minor. Both machines are also running Windows 98se and using 512MB of RAM. I am also using “Optimal default” BIOS settings on both machines and have double checked to make sure L1 and L2 cache is enabled.

*UPDATE 2/7/18*

As I discovered my previous tests skewed the results in the Pentium 3’s favor I have redone all tests. Previous tests were done WITHOUT updated Chipset drivers (from 2000/2001) which greatly effected performance of the Pentium 4 therefore I have decided to rewrite the majority of the following section with the updated data. Chipset drivers ver. 3.20.1008 were installed on both the Pentium 4 and 3 boards for all of the following tests.

First test is with SisSoft 99 to benchmark both the SDRAM in the Pentium 3 machine and the RDRAM in the Pentium 4 PC.

Pentium 3 SDRAM – CPU = 296, FPU = 328

Pentium 4 RDRAM – CPU = 993, FPU = 219

Now SisSoft 99 is a little confusing on how it benchmarks the memory and it seperates it into a CPU and FPU score but the RDRAM clearly has a bandwidth advantage here as its “CPU” score is about triple that of the SDRAM in the P3

The next test I wanted to run was just a few synthetic benchmarks just to get a feel of the two systems. The benchmarks I ran were 3DMark 2000 and 20001se. All tests were run at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. This was a high but reasonable resolution for the time.

p4vsp3

Initial Benchmarks put the Pentium 4 ahead with a slight lead in 3D Mark 2000 and with a slightly larger lead in 3D Mark 2001se. Not looking good for the Pentium 3 so far.

Lastly I wanted to run some gaming benchmarks as I feel they give a better idea of performance so I ran seven different game benchmarks multiple times on each machine to get a average. I ran all these at 1024 x 768 with 32 bit color. I also used 3d acceleration where I could since these tests were of the systems as a whole and not just the CPU. With this in mind I also performed all benchmarks with sound enabled where the option existed. All results were rounded to the nearest whole number.

p4vsp32

In three of the seven games the Pentium 4 beats the Pentium 3 if only just barely in some cases. In the more demanding Comanche 4 and Serious Sam: First Encounter we basically have a tie due to margin of error. Both of the older Quake games also results in a dead even tie.

When run at a lower resolution of 640 x 480 the Pentium 4 did pull ahead more so in several of the tests.

Keep in mind results may vary depending on the motherboard used. Now in truth the Willamette based Pentium 4’s may not deserve the hate they tend to get. In my experience the chips have been fairly stable and do run basic tasks just fine. They also when paired with a powerful graphics card of the time like the Geforce 2 tend to run games of the early 2000’s just fine on moderate settings or even high settings and resolutions depending on the game. The Pentium III on the other hand just tends to do tasks a little worse. Though results may be quite improved with Tualatin based Pentium III’s with double the L2 cache and 400mhz more clock speed then my 1ghz Coppermine CPU.

One important thing that is worth noting about the early Pentium 4’s is that software in the early 2000’s had yet to take advantage of the P4’s SSE2 instructions and thus in the early days of the 2000’s software was not optimized for the Pentium 4 CPU. There is also the matter of controversy of the time around Intel fudging the benchmark results to favor the Pentium 4 over the Athlon and Pentium III which eventually led to a class action lawsuit though these admittedly underhanded doings did not seem to involve game benchmarks. In the end though there is a reason Intel quickly abandoned socket 423.

Other games tested were GTA III, Halo and Far Cry. GTA III ran at a pretty consistent 30+ FPS when resolution was brought down to 800 x 600 x 32. Far Cry ran more or less fine at 1024 x 768 on medium settings at around 30 FPS with dips in the mid to low 20’s when several enemies were on screen or there was a large explosion. Turning the Resolution down to 800 x 600 x 32 gave better results with FPS hitting as high as the 90’s at points and rarely dipping into the mid 20’s when a lot was going on. Halo seemed to be playable at 1024 x 768 with medium settings but suffered lower FPS rates but at 800 x 600 with textures and particle effects set on high it was perfectly playable. Quake III even at 1024 x 768 x 32 pulled a consistent 90+ FPS. A more powerful graphics card will obviously improve results but is out of the scope of a “year 2000 build”.

Despite the results favoring the Pentium 4 you were likely better off either sticking to your Pentium III or going the AMD route with the Athlon XP especially considering the high price of the early P4s. I also would of felt pretty burned when Intel dropped socket 423 for socket 478 after only a year give or take leaving socket 423 owners with not much of an upgrade path. I don’t feel the Pentium 4 really became competitive until the later Northwood cores started clocking over 2ghz and especially with the 2.5ghz hyperthreading models. There IS a noticeable performance boost over the 1ghz P3 but it’s not quite as much as I would expect from 500mhz more clock speed and a brand new CPU architecture and I think this is what let most people down. It’s not that the Pentium 4 was slower overall then a similarly equipped Pentium 3 build (if your PC was properly optimized) but that it wasn’t that much faster, at least not enough to justify the costs. I’d certainly be interested in how much difference a 2ghz Willamette makes against the Pentium III or even an early Northwood against a 1ghz Pentium III but that’s a matter for another article.

The CED or Capacitance Electronic Disc was a form of media that started development in the early 1960’s but did not see commercial release until 1981. In the most basic terms CED is movies on vinyl discs. The players were manufactured and sold between late 1980 and 1884 and around 1,700 titles were ultimately made available on the CED.

The players were produced in relatively large numbers in North America (about 500,000) but many individuals Ive personally talked to that were of the age to have disposable income in the early 80’s have no memory of these machines and are always shocked at the idea of movies on a vinyl record. These players were also sold in smaller numbers in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Video quality was roughly on par with VHS standards of the time but which media looked slightly better seems to depend on who you ask with some sources saying it looked slightly better. I find that VHS seems to have held up a little better picture wise. CED was intended to be a cheap form of home movie viewing and was slated for a 1977 release but was pushed back to 1981. By that time Laserdisc, VHS and Beta were well on the scene and in the case of VHS and Beta prices were dropping to affordable levels.

My model is a relatively low-mid end RCA SGT-100W. CED players can be pretty hard to find these days at thrifts or yard sales and even on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp. eBay is always an alternative but like most “rare, collectables” prices plus shipping can be outrageous. Even on local sites like Craigslist people tend to want unreasonable amounts. I paid $50 for my player which I think is pretty fair. Interestingly though actual CED movies are quite common and cheap. I see them on a fairly common basis at thrifts and prices for all but the rarest titles are very reasonable online.

My player seen above is obviously a product of the time with bad wood grain casing but more modern players in all silver and blacks were available. These players were also marketed as “Selectovision” which is labeled in blue on the face of my player. The CEDs themselves come in protective caddies and are inserted via a long slit at the front of the machine and play mode is engaged by a large switch. Not all players used this switch mechanism and some of the more high end or late players used an auto load mechanism. This, though looking more modern, tends to be less reliable as auto load trays being more complex tend to break down more with time then the simpler manual loaders.

The switch or lever seen above on the far right is for loading and playing movies on this particular player as well as functioning as a on/off switch. It’s a little strange and awkward at first to use this thing since its nothing like the processes on a VCR or DVD player though It is worth pointing out again that not all CED players use this manual giant switch load/play method.

all the way to the left there are two lights labeled side 1 and 2. This just is there to indicate what side of the CED is playing. Much like a Laserdisc A CED only can hold about 60 minutes on each side and thus needs flipped at the half way point for standard length movies.

Rapid Access buttons are merely fast forward and rewind and video search button could be held down to rapidly skip ahead or to previous scenes. Finally the pause button does just what it says and pauses the movie though this causes thew screen to blank as the stylus is raised from the disc being played.

Here is the back of my RCA SGT-100W. As far as video and audio connections go my model only supports RF out as well as a switch for channel 3 and 4. For some reason with this machine I’ve had better luck getting an image on channel 4 then on 3. RF quality unfortunately is not very good and is the worst video output method available. Some higher end CED players do offer composite out which offers a noticeably better image as well as makes it much easier to hook a CED player up to more modern TV sets. I have read it may be possible to modify RF only players for composite but it may be easier or cheaper to just acquire a higher end CED player with composite out.

It may be a little hard to see but at the top of the player on the right hand side but more to the center is a little button. This button is used to pop a small hatch on the top of the machine to give access to the stylus.

Once this black cover is removed you have access to the stylus which is a plastic casing with a needle. This works just like a a record player and is needed to read the CED movie discs.

On my player the stylus is held on in a metal cradle with moves on rails over the disc when a CED is playing. To access the stylus there is a small latch that you pull back and then lift up the metal cover. after this is done the stylus can easily be lifted out.

These styluses can and do wear out over time and do need replacing. unfortunately they can be hard to source these days and different models may use a different type of stylus so the form factor stylus I need for this CED player may not work in a different model. Changing them though is incredibly easy and is basically just involved pulling the old one and placing a new one down in its place.

Now lets take a look at the CED movies themselves.

Here are two CED films. CEDs with mono soundtracks came in white plastic cases where CEDs with stereo sound came in blue. You never actually touch the vinyl itself or at least your not supposed to. The vinyl movie itself is in these plastic caddy carriers. When you insert the CED movie into the player it grabs the end of the case and as you pull the case out the vinyl slides out of the case it is in and onto the turntable. This is actually a really good solution RCA came up with to protect the vinyl movies as they can be very susceptible to dust and finger prints. Dust and grim can still find their way onto discs and cause skipping. repeated viewings can correct this issue.

Speaking of repeated viewings, CED movies do have a finite life and after about 500 viewings the quality can degrade considerably. For home use this isn’t to bad as it is unlikely a single individual or even a family would of watched a movie 500 times or more but for something like rental this could become an issue. This was never an issue though as CED’s were never popular enough to find a place in the rental market of the time.

The image above compares size between a CED, Laserdisc and a DVD in the case/sleeve. The CED is slightly larger then a Laserdisc and like LDs if the movie was longer then 120 minutes it ether had to be edited down or spread across multiple CED discs. Unlike LDs there were only a few widescreen versions of films released and then only in North America so the vast majority of titles seem to be mono sound and full screen format.

My friend owns an SGT 200 model that features stereo sound as well as composite output for superior image quality. I asked to test a few CED movies on it and although the Image was superior to my CED player it was still pretty lacking and suffered from continuous skipping issues likly due to an old stylus.

As far as quality goes you can expect a player with a new stylus and a CED with fairly low use to give about the image quality of a VHS though these days with second hand players and discs expect watchable but slightly lower then VHS quality as the norm for something you pick up from a yard sale or thrift store. The image from a CED seems to be more stable then an image produced from a VCR player with no tracking line issues but then you do have to tend with skipping due to possible dust issues or worn out stylus needles.

CED was meant to be a cheap means for consumers to watch movies in the home and if it came out in the 1970’s it very well may of been a success. This scenario wasn’t the case however and the CED wasn’t introduced until 1981. By this time prices for VHS and Beta players were already becoming affordable and Laserdisc was occupying the markets high end. CED wasn’t standing much of a chance even with the budget market. Even though quality and at first, price was comparable to VHS add the inconvenience of disc size and the idea of having to flip a disc mid movie and VHS was the clear winner. Not to even mention the ability of VHS to record programming. Like Laserdisc, CED could not record programs off TV but at least Laserdisc had the advantage of a vastly better image quality over both CED and VHS/Beta.

So in the end CED faded off into relative obscurity not even being remembered by the majority of consumers and movie lovers of the time. As for picking one up in modern times it’s really up in the air. CED’s really offer nothing that you cant find elsewhere. The quality is poor and none of the movies that I know of can’t be found on either VHS, DVD, LD or Blu-ray nor are any movies or special cuts of a movie available on CED that can’t be found elsewhere as well. at least with Laserdisc or even VHS there are some movies that have never found official release on DVD or Blu-ray or have features or versions not found else ware but this doesn’t seem to be the case with CED. Even VHS likely offers the same movie but in a widescreen version with comparable quality and more convenience in size and no disc flipping.

Another thing to keep in mind is price. CED movies themselves tend to be very cheap, even brand new and sealed but players seem to be relatively hard to find if not using eBay. They also tend to be expensive and are commonly tagged with words such as “Rare” and “Collectable”. In my opinion they aren’t worth more then $30 or $50 for a working player as just a novelty but most places seem to want at least $100. There is an active CED collector community and it is a neat little machine so I don’t mean to poo-poo to much on it but I do want potential newcomers to the CED to be aware. If you do find a a CED player at a thrift for a high price don’t be afraid to haggle. I had one friend find a player for $120 but after a few weeks was able to get the price down to $60.

 

If you’ve followed this blog you probably know by now I’ll find any excuse to put together a new PC build. This of course includes building  and optimizing PC’s for the purpose of playing a single game. The last example of this was my Ultimate Ultima VII PC that I assembled and wrote about a few months back that I had built specifically to play Ultima VII. Today’s article is about a similar PC. Back in the day it wasn’t to uncommon to have a game released that required very specific hardware to run at its best looking or sometimes even at all. Either a very specific CPU speed such as in the case of Wing Commander and Ultima VII or using a specific graphics API  such as Glide or S3D and a compatible graphics card to look its best. As we moved into the late Win 9x and Windows XP era these become much less common as games were programmed better for future CPU clocks and the huge array of proprietary graphics card APIs died out and eventually boiled down to Direct X and OpenGL.

The 2002 game Splinter Cell on PC though became an exception to this norm and required a graphics card of the Geforce 3, 4 of 5 (FX) series to display properly on PC. Even here the choice mostly boiled down to the Geforce 4 line as the it could do anything the Geforce 3 could do but faster and the Geforce 5 (FX) line being faster but actually suffering from imperfect compatibility. The need for these specific cards is due to the game being a port from the original Xbox requiring it to use features of the NV2x chips. This mostly pertains to shadows and with Splinter Cell being a stealth game this aspect plays a major role. The NV2x and NV3x use a technique known as Shadow Buffering where as later cards use a technique known as Projected Shadows. The methods are similar but different enough to cause graphical glitches in Splinter Cell when using non Shadow Buffering cards.

The game is completely playable with other cards including those from the Radeon series but is missing some shadow and lighting effects. I am aware that it may be possible to hack ini files or force older drivers to allow shadow buffering on other cards or use game patches to correct the issue but in this article we’re going to focus on a period correct retro machine to get the best authentic experience without the need to use patches or any hacking of files.

So now that we know why we might want to build a Splinter Cell PC let take a look at the machine I came up with.

Case and Drives – For a case I used a ATX PC case I had that was unused. For the Splinter Cell theme I decided to paint the case back using cheap spray paint acquired from the local hardware store though I suppose a dark grey would of also worked. To create a look that mimicked the iconic splinter cell green night vision goggles I found and installed a 5 1/4 inch 3 fan hard drive caddy but left the bay without a hard drive so that the internal lighting I’ll talk about shortly could shine through the three holes giving the night vision effect.

For drives I went with a SATA DVD drive since we will need an optical drive to install Splinter Cell as well as a 1.44 floppy drive. The floppy drive is unneeded for Splinter Cell but it adds versatility to the overall machine.

Motherboard – For the motherboard I decided to go with a socket 478 board. I went with this socket because I wanted to try something a little different (for me) with this build and try out the Pentium 4. The motherboard I ended up using is the Gigabyte GA-81PE1000-G.

This socket 478 motherboard uses the very stable Intel 865PE chipset and supports DDR400, AGP x8, Hyper threading, built in SATA as well as a 800mhz front side bus for the later and faster Pentium 4 CPU’s. The motherboard came without any fan on the chipset cooler so I added this nice little fan with LED’s.

OS and Hard Drive – for a hard drive I decided to go with a 160GB SATA hard drive since the motherboard had built in SATA. For and OS I went with Windows XP for an overall easier experience although the game is also supported in Windows 98.

CPU – for a CPU you can really use just about anything from a 800mhz Pentium III up. I originally played Splinter Cell on a 1.4ghz PIII and the game ran more or less just fine but since I was going with a Pentium 4 build I decided to go all out and opted for the Pentium 4 Extreme CPU. This CPU helps me run the game at high graphical settings and resolution while keeping an acceptable framerate.

The Pentium 4 Extremes were Intel’s high end enthusiast chips and sported 512kb of L2 cache on die as well as a whopping 2mb of L3 cache.  My socket 478 Pentium 4 Extreme runs at 3.2ghz with a 800mhz FSB and hyper threading enabled. There is also a 3.4ghz version available for socket 478 but it can be rather hard to come across and expensive. The P4 Extremes based off the Gallatin core can run a little hot so I would suggest a decent heatsink and fan. I used this Zalman fan that sports a copper stripe and mostly aluminum fins. There are all copper versions available as well.

RAM – For RAM I went with four sticks of 1gb DDR400 running in dual channel mode for maximum memory speed and capacity. My RAM came with heat spreader attached but you probably don’t need anything so fancy in your own build.

 Sound – For sound I went with a Creative Audigy 2ZS. In my opinion this is one of the best old school PCI sound cards and is a good step up from the Sound Blaster Live! and original Audigy cards in terms of audio quality. Splinter Cell also supports EAX or Environmental Audio Extensions which the Audigy 2ZS supports. What this mostly does is create echo effects in larger indoors areas of the game.

Graphics card – Probably the most important piece of the Splinter Cell PC build. As I mentioned at the start of the article Splinter Cell is very specific about what graphics cards it needs to use for the best looking and most hassle free experience. Using any card outside of the Geforece 3, 4 and 5 (FX) line will result in the game missing many of the correct and intended shadows and lighting effects. As I mentioned the Geforce 5 (FX) line of cards will work and give the greatest performance and best FPS but they aren’t 100% compatible and you will get graphical glitches such as “shinny textures” at points as well as shadow flickering. Some cards of the FX line display these glitches less then others, for instance the Geforce 5800.

With this in mind if you want a complete glitchless experience your options are either the Geforce 3 or 4 lines. Seeing as the Geforce 4 does everything the Geforce 3 does but faster the logical choice is the Geforce 4. I chose the top of the line Geforce Ti4600 with 128mb of ram. This was the high end AGP x4 offering from Nvidia and will get you the best performance while retaining all the shadow effects. Later Nvidia also released an AGP x8 version labeled the Ti4800 but in reality the AGP x8 offers no real performance boost over the Ti4600. I even recall one source claiming the Ti4800 was ever so slightly slower then the Ti4600 perhaps due to the slightly higher clocked memory on the Ti4600.

I am using Nvidia drivers 45.23 and these are the best overall drivers I would recommend using for this game.

Something to take into consideration is that Splinter Cell is a slower paced game relying on tactics of hiding, waiting and slow thought out movements. This being the case having a higher frame rate really doesn’t seem to take a priority over having better looking and functioning shadows so I really would recommend a Geforce 4 over the Geforce 5 (FX).

extra lighting – In order to go with the theme I decided to install some extra lighting. This included cutting out a spot in the side of the case to mount a green LED fan to help with cooling as well as adding some light strips, one behind the top 5 1/4 HDD caddy and one along the rear vent holes.

These lights (not including the case fan) can be turned off via a rear switch that installs in one of the expansion slots.

Here is the machine with the lights out.

 

 

Lastly were going to take a look at come comparison screenshots and benchmarks. The following images are courtesy of Phil from Phils computer Lab.

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Non Geforce 3/4

Geforce 4

Benchmarks

3DMark 2001SE at 1024 x 768 no AA – 14604

3DMark 2003 – 2005

MDK2 at 1024 x 768 x 32 colors w/ T&L – 64.8 FPS

As for running Splinter Cell using FRAPS to watch frames at all the highest settings running at 1280 x 1064 the game seemed to average at around 20 FPS sometimes going up into the 30’s and 40’s and sometimes dipping down to around 15 FPS. At 1024 x 768 the average framerate seemed to stay much closer to 30 FPS. adjusting detail levels downward can also significantly help. Using thermal vision seems to tax the game the most and can really drop your FPS.

Funny thing is I played this entire game start to finish at 1280 x 1064 and at the highest graphical settings and the lower FPS really didn’t affect me. This is likely very much due to the slow and methodical nature of this game making higher FPS not as important as in some other games. Of course different people have different tolerances for framerates so it may bother you more then it has me. If this is the case a simple fix is just tuning down the graphical settings, resolution or swapping the Geforce 4 out for a higher end Geforce 5 (FX) and trade off some glitching for higher FPS.

Xbox version

I think it merits mentioning the original Xbox version here since that was the original platform this game was released for. From my research the games runs just fine on the Xbox and is perhaps the better and most hassle free way to play the game. The PC port does have the advantage of quick saves as well as higher resolution options.

Other games using Shadow Buffers?

Maybe, the sequel to Splinter Cell, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow possibly uses shadow buffers but nothing in the documentation confirms this. For a long time this game suffered even worse then the original when played on more modern PCs  with parts being almost unplayable due to missing shadow effects. On the up side the game seems to render perfectly when using a card of the Geforce 5 (FX) series as well as the Geforce 6 and 7 series cards. A patch was released by the community to fix some of the issues when using a later card such as the a Geforce 8 or 9 card.

Komat, a member of the Vogons forum came up with a patch that fixes some of but not all of the graphical issues when using a card other then the Geforce 3,4 or 5 (FX), you can find it here

Conclusion

In conclusion if you want to play splinter cell on original hardware without glitches or lost shadow effects without fiddling with hacks the only real choice is the Geforce 4, preferably the TI4600 or Ti4800. Something like the high end offerings of the Geforce 5 (FX) series will also mostly get the job done at a much higher FPS but at the cost of a few graphical issues. The one nice thing about this project is even though the PC is fine tuned for Splinter Cell it also makes an excellent early Windows XP machine playing many games from the time at their highest settings. As for framerates, despite the lower FPS you get running Splinter Cell with a Geforce 4 and high settings I say give it a try. The nature of the game makes having a really high framerate not as important as it is in other titles and you may appreciate the better looks over the smoother play.

I’m known for being a bit of a purist with my retro PC builds. Sure I’ll make exceptions at times, use a CF or SDD HDD here and there (out of sight out of mind right?), use a CD-ROM or DVD drive in a system that probably wouldn’t of had one back in the day or even throw a floppy emulator into some problematic floppy only systems but generally I like to stick to period correct builds with hardware more or less from the time period. With this build though I’m going to step away from that a little bit and build what I call DOSzilla, A super powerful yet highly compatible DOS based gaming PC with key parts more or less outside of the era that DOS was a prevalent or even moderately used as a operating system in the home.

If your looking for a fast but more era correct DOS PC check out my article on my fast Pentium MMX DOS PC.

One of the pickiest components when building a DOS PC is the sound card. DOS always works best with a 16-bit ISA sound card. There are PCI sound cards like those based on the Aureal Vortex chip that do a pretty good job of working under DOS, especially with later games but I wanted to go for as high of a compatibility and ease of use as I could and this meant I needed a motherboard with a 16-bit ISA slot. This basically limits us to either a Pentium III motherboard that supports up to a 1.4ghz Tualatin CPU or a AMD Athlon socket A Thunderbird motherboard that supports up to a 1.4ghz AMD Thunderbird CPU. There are motherboards that support faster CPU’s as well as having a 16-bit ISA slot but they tend to be for industrial applications and are expensive and hard to find so for this project I wanted to keep costs low and components easily attainable.

If your wondering about performance between the Intel 1.4ghz Tualatin and the AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird they are relatively similar but it depends on the application and game. Here is an example of some benchmarks I performed using this motherboard and a separate PIII board though note different motherboards may give varying results.

Motherboard – Tyan S2390

Either motherboard choice is fine but I went with a AMD board just for something a little different. The motherboard I chose was the Tyan S2390, a socket A board which uses the VIA KT-133 chipset.

This is a pretty good performing motherboard that met my immediate needs. It supported a Thunderbird 1.4ghz CPU (though that manual states it can only accept up to a 1ghz CPU) had a x4 AGP slot, BIOS options to disable internal cache and finally had one all important 16-bit ISA slot.

For my operating system I’m just using my old fallback of DOS 6.22 but if your feeling adventurous you could try DOS 7.1 which some people have managed to isolate from Windows 9x and make into its own standalone OS. This MAY induce a few compatibility issues with a rare few picky games but on the upside you can use much larger hard drive sizes and partitions.

CPU – AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird

So first we need to talk about my choice of CPU, the AMD 1.4ghz Thunderbird.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Released in 2001 the 1.4ghz model is the final and fastest CPU in AMD’s Thunderbird core chips. Things to note is this CPU can be a little hard to find as well as it runs a little hot so make sure you use a decent heatsink / fan combo. This CPU is also the fastest CPU my motherboard will accept even though official documentation says it will only support CPU’s of up to 1ghz this is probably because the motherboard came out roughly a year before the 1.4ghz Thunderbird was a thing.

I also like this motherboard / CPU combo because although 2001 is well after the death of DOS as a mainstream home OS or platform for gaming it’s not to far out of the era to count as ridiculous overkill as bigger DOS titles were still being released in 97 and probably 98 only three or so years earlier. All the extra horsepower does have one big advantage and that’s running many of these later DOS titles much smoother then PC’s of their time could especially in higher resolutions that games such as Quake offered.

One major downside of such speed though is greater incompatibility with games due to mostly speed issues. This results in some titles running far to quickly or sometimes more subtle issues such as a game appearing to run fine but timed events hidden in the background running to quickly. This can be especially prevalent with older titles where a CPU was expected to be running at a mere 33mhz or 66mhz let alone 1.4ghz.

This issue can be mitigated somewhat by the BIOS option to disable internal cache on the CPU. My testing with programs like Topbench has shown when the internal cache is disabled in BIOS on the 1.4ghz Thunderbird it performs similar to a 33-50mhz 486DX.

RAM – PC133 SDRAM

For RAM I’m using one stick of 512MB PC133 SDRAM. This is actually massive overkill and may actually adversely effect compatibility with a few rare titles. I’m just using it for the sake of trying it but if you want to play things safer a 128mb stick or even a 64mb stick would be best. If though your planning on duel booting Win 9x or running Windows as your main OS and using DOS mode stick with 512mb.

HDD – Maxtor ATA133 HDD & Promise ATA100 PCI IDE controller

The Tyan S2390 only has ATA66 on the built in IDE controller which although adequate I wanted to go a bit faster. For a hard drive I could easily have thrown in a SATA adapter and a SSD or even SD card as a hard drive but I wanted to just go with something I already had laying around so I opted for a 40GB Maxtor ATA133 hard drive with a PCI ATA100 IDE card I had on hand. using this card I do lose a bit of performance from the I could of gotten out of the hard drive as well as wasting a lot of hard drive space as my setup can only see 2GB of the hard drive.

If you have one lying around or want to spend the few extra dollars you shouldn’t have any issues with throwing in a PCI SATA adapter card and a SATA hard drive or even SSD.

Video – Diamond Stealth S540 Savage 4 Pro

For a video card I wanted to go with something very capable and fast but also a card that gave the highest compatibility with older DOS titles. For this I went with the AGP S3 Savage 4 pro chip in the form of the 32mb Diamond Stealth III S540

S3 cards from the mid 90’s such as the S3 Trio and Virge were known for their excellent and highly compatible 2D core and the Savage 4 chip is no different. Also like their earlier cards the Savage 4  wasn’t really known as being a speed demon and was generally outclassed by cards from Nvidia and 3DFX such as the TNT2 and Voodoo 3 but in our DOS build the Savage 4 based S540 is more then powerful enough as well as delivering that excellent 2D image and compatibility. The card I’m using here is the AGP x4 pro chip but if you want a card a little faster look for the Savage 4 Xtreme.

Sound – Creative AWE64

Lastly we have the sound card. Obviously we I wanted to go with a 16-bit ISA card for a large degree of hassle free DOS compatibility. The card I ended up going with largely for for the reason of having one in easy reach was the Creative AWE64.

Keep in mind there are many acceptable sound cards one can use for this project. I went with the AWE64 for its good compatibility and sound quality. In DOS the AWE64 acts just like an AWE32 and many later DOS games directly support it in setup options, otherwise it usually can emulate a SB pretty well. It also can do its own MIDI which although usually not as good as an external module still sounds acceptable with many later games. It does have its drawbacks though such as a lack of a real OPL FM chip but since this PC is heavily geared to later games that would take more advantage of MIDI or a CD soundtrack I felt it was a still a great choice. This model also lacks a wavetable header so no MIDI daughterboard add-ons. Again though, if you have a different preference many other ISA cards should work just fine such as an AWQE32 with a MIDI daughterboard of your choosing or a Sound Blaster 16 or clone.

Games, Overall Performance and Conclusion

Now to take a look at how this PC performed for me once all put together. First a look at some Benchmarks with my more period correct Pentium based fast DOS PC

RED = DOSzilla

GREEN = 233mhz Pentium DOS PC, 2mb L2 cache, 132MB PC133 SDRAM, Virge/GX

As expected DOSzilla stomps the Pentium 1 PC. For some reason my benchmark for Wolf3d wouldn’t even run on the Pentium rig but this could be due to anything. Some benchmarks turn out surprisingly close though like DOOM. If my terrible math skills are correct it’s only about 30% slower on the Pentium MMX PC.

As for games I did test a number of them including a few older titles. The games I tested and the results are

DOOM – no issues

Quake – no issues

Tex Murphy, Under a Killing Moon – no issues

Duke Nukem 3D – no issues

Decent 2 – ran to fast, corrected by disabling CPU cache in BIOS

Commander Keen 4 – no issues

Star Wars Dark Forces – no issues

Wolfenstein 3D – no issues

Double Dragon – no issues

Major Stryker – failed to install (this is due to a installer bug if your hard drive is to big, even happens on a 386 if the HDD is > 1GB)

Even though I didn’t play any of these games on DOSzilla extensively I was surprised by the initial excellent compatibility. most of the late era games ran just fine with pretty much zero issues in gameplay, graphics or setting up the sound in the install. Everything just worked for the most part. Decent 2 did run to fast but restarting and turning off internal CPU cache in the BIOS options corrected this. Major Stryker failed to install but this was due to the HDD being to large which happens on any PC regardless of the CPU if you use a HDD > 1GB. Of course this is a very small sampling of DOS games from a library of thousands so there is bound to be compatibility issues especially in older titles but overall I was impressed by the initial trials.

As for Quake and some of its ridiculously taxing resolution options for the time DOSzilla was able to run the game in 1280 x 1024 though gameplay was not optimal and quite choppy. It was technically playable but not a great experience. I suspect a fast video card could help in this department. The game did run at a perfectly acceptable framerate at 1024 x 768 though.

In conclusion I think DOSzilla makes a fine DOS PC. I still prefer a more traditional retro PC using a bit more period correct parts. I feel a slower machine does offer better all around compatibility and just feels a bit more special. That said I was impressed with DOSzillas compatibility, at least with later DOS titles likely due to the 16-bit ISA sound card and S3 video. The ability to actually play games like Quake in higher resolutions was nice but as I said I suspect more and more issues with CPU speed would crop up as you played more and more older titles. All in all if you have the parts and are looking for a DOS rig with an emphasis on playing late 90’s games go ahead and build your own DOSzilla.

ultima_vii_black_gate_box

Ultima VII is without doubt one of the greatest CRPG’s and perhaps one of the best RPG games ever made. It is also without doubt one of the hardest games to get running correctly. In this article we are going to take a look at building a PC specifically for the purpose of playing one game, Ultima VII and Ultima VII part II, Serpent Isle

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article I do want to point out there are various patches and fixes to allow Ultima VII to play on a Windows 9X computer, there are also other methods that allow one to play the game on a machine that normally would not play U7 optimally such as utilities or jumper tricks to slow down faster PC’s or simply using a boot disk to configure things correctly. That is not the reason or focus of this article. In this article we are building a PC specifically for the sole purpose to play U7 as optimized as we can using “mostly” period hardware in a DOS environment without the aid of patches or boot disks.

The first question one might ask is “Why would I want to play Ultima VII”? The answer to this question I actually answered in the first paragraph. U7 is widely considered one of the greatest RPG games of all time so if you are a RPG lover you owe it to yourself to play this game. The second question one would likely ask is “Why is it so hard to get this game running correctly, or for that matter running at all”? That is the question we will be looking at below as well as how to put together a PC that addresses these issues.

There are basically two major reasons and one minor reason this game was and still is so hard to get running. I’ve read stories of people buying this game back on release and having to return it due to not being able how to figure out how to make it run. We’ll start with the more minor issue first and then work our way up to the major roadblock to getting this game to run properly.

1 ) Hard drives usage – Ultima VII accesses the hard dive A LOT. This can result in continuous stuttering or pauses as the screen scrolls. This though is the most minor of issues when hoping to play U7 on real hardware. The simplest advise I have for this is find the fastest hard drive and hard drive controller you can find for your build and use that. I went with a VLB controller paired with a none era correct compact flash card which I think works very well as a solution.

2) CPU speed sensitivity –  Ultima VII is one of those games that require a vary specific CPU speed or things will either play to slowly or to fast. You can play the game on a 40mhz 386 or early 486 but the game just bogs down. On a 66mhz 486DX2 or above the game just plays way to fast.  a 33mhz 486 is largely considered the “official” recommended CPU speed but I would say the U7 Goldilocks range is between a 33mhz 486 and a 50mhz 486DX2. On a 50mhz DX the game just runs a little to fast and on a 66mhz DX2 it becomes almost unplayable especially if your chasing something on screen such as a monster. Users of 66mhz DX2’s can play with jumpers on the motherboard and set your FSB to 20mhz to simulate a 40mhz DX2 (which never existed as an actual 486 CPU) which plays the game pretty optimally. Those trying to slow down their machine by using programs to disable internal cache may find a nasty surprise as the game re-initializes cache if it is disabled.

3) Memory management – The greatest hurdle in getting U7 to work at all is the custom memory manager known as the Voodoo Memory Manager that the game REQUIRES to work. This manager is incompatible with just about all expanded memory managers such as EMM386. On top of this the game requires a fairly large amount of conventional memory, as much as 585kb. This is the core of the problem. In normal use a user would use a program such as EMM386 or QEMM to move essential drivers into upper memory thus freeing up conventional memory for games. The requirement to use the custom Voodoo manager thus prevents this and in turn you can’t free up enough conventional memory for the game since it’s eaten up by drivers for various required things such as CD-ROM drivers, mouse drivers, SMARTDRV, ect… This requires users to either use a boot disk with a minimal setup  or hand pick the smallest compatible drivers that can be found and trim the system down to the required basics.

Here is a look at my “Ultimate Ultima VII PC” and how I set things up to play U7 without the need for a boot disk or any slowdown utilities.

??????????????

u7pc2

u7pc3

I came across this machine at a local swap meet and thought the compact case would be perfect for this U7 build I had in my head.

The motherboard I’m using is a version of the FIC 486-GVT U2, and Is the same board I have used previously in my 50mhz DX machine. I’m using 24MB of RAM (U7 only requires 4MB) as well as 256k of L2 cache.

u7pc4

Before I get into the software side of things and show you how I’ve set up DOS to have enough conventional memory while retaining the needed drivers and using the custom Voodoo Memory Management system U7 requires lets go over the hardware.

CPU – Initially I went with the generally recommended 33mhz 486DX but after some further research I concluded the optimal CPU for my tastes is the AMD 486DX-40 running on a 40mhz front side bus. I decided on this CPU over the 33mhz because I felt that later in the game when there are multiple enemies and things happening on screen the extra CPU power could really come in handy in preventing things from bogging down to much.

u7pc7

Video – For video I went with my old VLB Diamond Speedster Pro based on the Cirrus Logic GD5428 chip. I have used this card in the past and overall it is a fast and compatible video card for DOS.

u7pc9

The combination of the 40mhz DX CPU and fast video may result in the game running marginally fast in areas such as the city but nothing that ruins the game. To be honest if it is running slightly faster then it should in these areas I’m not noticing it to any great degree.

Also please note there seems to be some sort of incompatibility with cards using the ET4000 chipset and Ultima VII. The issue seems to be a shimmering effect or what I see as sort of “VCR tracking lines” appearing at the top of the screen. I have confirmed this is an issue effecting several ET4000 cards by testing multiple cards from different manufacturers and also talking to others that share the same issue.

Here is a video showing the effect when U7 is played with an ISA ET4000 based card.

Audio – Ultima 7 offers the option to use the MT-32 for music as well as FM. Obviously the Roland MT-32 midi module offers superior quality in music and so that is the direction I took my machine. I didn’t want to spend extra money on a Roland midi interface card but thankfully U7 does not require intelligent mode to play its midi via the joystick port on a standard sound card. Knowing this I went a slightly unexpected route and went with a sound blaster clone card, the Audio Excel PNP16.

??????????????

I decided to go with a clone card because the Sound Blaster Pro cards do not support midi via the joystick port and Sound Blaster 16 cards are prone to the “hanging midi bug”. A careful observer may notice the complete lack of a real OPL FM chip on this card. For me this wasn’t an issues as I do not plan to use FM and only need this card for the MIDI interface capabilities and for digital sound effects. If you are planning on using the FM track for music as opposed to a Roland MT-32 I would recommend a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 or Sound Blaster 16 with a real OPL FM chip.

Hard Drive – As I mentioned earlier U7 thrashes most hard drives so I strongly recommend getting the fastest hard drive and controller you can. I decided to go for a VLB HDD controller as well as a era incorrect 512mb compact flash card to use as a hard drive.

u7pc8

The hard drive controller I’m using the the VLB  DTC 2278 enhanced IDE controller card. There are certainly faster controllers out there but not wanting to spend money on expensive and hard to find controllers with on board cache RAM I felt this card was quite capable.

For the hard drive itself I went with a Sandisk 512mb compact flash card on a IDE to CF adapter. I also housed this card in a removable HDD caddy so If I ever wanted to use the machine for something other then Ultima VII and did not want to mess around with my configuration I could simply and easily swap hard drives.

u7pc5

u7pc6

So now that we’ve taken a look at the hardware lets take a look on how to setup DOS to get U7 running.

getting enough conventional memory to run Ultima VII and Serpent isle (which requires even more memory then part VII) without being able to utilize upper memory was a bit of a chore. Firstly you only want to load drivers that are needed for the game so this would include CD-ROM drivers, mouse drivers and sound card drivers if required depending on the card your using. SMARTDRV is also recommended to help with speeding up hard drive access. This means you don’t want to be loading any drivers that are not necessary to the games so nothing for example like drivers for a ZIP drive need to be loaded.

Next you need to search for the smallest sized drivers you can and hope they are compatible with whatever motherboard or drives your using. Some of these nonstandard drivers may have compatibility problems with other games but for the Ultima VII PC we only care if they work with U7. here is a look at my memory usage on my U7 PC and the drivers I’m using.

u7pc11

This setup gives me more then enough conventional and XMS memory for Ultima VII and Serpent Isle. Here are some of the recommended drivers I used.

Mouse – CTMOUSE, the most compatible and smallest DOS mouse drivers out there, I actually use these drivers as standard for my DOS PC’s. http://cutemouse.sourceforge.net/

CD-ROM – I used VIDE-CDD drivers for my CD-ROM drive and SHSUCDX as a substitute for MSCDEX. these both take up significantly less space then my usual GSCDROM and MSCDEX combo which combined can eat a whopping 57k of memory compared to 11k of the  VIDE-CDD and SHSUCDX combo. This combo may very well have inferior overall compatibility but remember, for this project we are only concerned with U7. One side effect of using VIDE-CDD is on boot up I get a brief speaker beep and illegal operation error yet the CD drive seems to detect and operate flawlessly. VIDE-CDD & SHSUCDX – https://www.hiren.info/downloads/dos-files

Everything else I’m running is standard with AEMIX being for my sound card.

If your having trouble finding drivers that work and that are small enough you can possibly get away with disabling SMARTDRV if your using a more modern HDD or a compact flash drive. SMARTDRV is primarily most useful in boosting performance of older more period correct hard drives.

Finally a look at my Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files.

u7pc12

u7pc13

Ignore the GSCDROM line I have REMed. I was initially using them for my CD-ROM drive but switched over to the VIDE-CDD drivers in order to get Serpent Isle to run.

In conclusion I hope this information helps anyone out there looking to play Ultima VII on real hardware and helps alleviate some of the frustration associated with putting together such a build.

references

Nerdly Pleasures – Ultima VII on Real Hardware

Vogons post – http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=32619

Imagine being able to play games in high quality at a smooth 30 frames per second and in full screen. It’s a silly thing to ask gamers or those that stream their favorite movies off the internet these days but in the 1980’s and early 90’s it was a wonder to behold being done on a lowly 386 or even a 486. Decoding video was a hefty task for those CPU’s of yesteryear and many just were not powerful enough for the task. Video cards eventually helped with the task of decoding video as they did with 3d rendering but this was still years away. Compromises then were forced to be made as we entered the brave new world of Full motion video or FMV as it is often referred to. To allow the use of FMV on the less capable CPU’s of the time videos screens were often shot in fairly low and grainy quality. Many times FMV was also reduced to a small section of the screen to ease the burden on the CPU in much the same way one is able to reduce the visual play area in a game such as DOOM to increase frame rate. Enter the Reelmagic Mpeg decoder card. A card that was ment to install next to your primary video card and whose sole purpose was to decode Mpeg1 video and send it to your monitor. Finally PC users were able watch actual full screen FMV videos on their PC at smooth rates and at acceptable quality.

First were going to look at an older Reelmagic card which is also the card I used in all my testing.

reel2

(remember all images can be enlarged by clicking on them twice)

This is the Reelmagic CD lite from 1993 by Sigma Designs. It is a fairly long 16 bit ISA card meant to be installed alongside a primary video card. The CD lite card differs from the full version of the Reelmagic CD card by its lack of an IDE connector meant to connect to a CD drive as well as the lack of a pin header to attach an OPL3 FM card which basically turns the card into a sound blaster compatible. Since I already had a CD drive controller as well as a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 installed I felt the Lite version was a better buy. The full Reelmagic cards can also go for quite a lot of money so weigh your needs.

The card has both a VGA output and a 1/4″ inch audio jack output port.

reel7

The card works by connecting internally with your primary video card via a vesa feature connector located on the upper right corner of the card nearer the output jacks. Generally the cable ends in both a pin style and edge style connection so you can connect to video cards that use either style. Here is my Tseng Labs ET4000 card with its vesa feature connector highlighted which is where you would connect your cable from the Reelmagic card to.

reel1

older cards sometimes had this connector in a edge card form.

reel9

The cables themselves aren’t to hard to find and offer a superior image quality to using an external connection solution. The downside to this method is some video cards may lack a vesa feature connector making the Reelmagic card unusable with these video cards.

reel8

Reelmagic card connected to ET4000 video card via vesa feature connector

 Later Sigma Designs changed the name to their Mpeg decoder cards to Realmagic. These cards also come in a PCI variety and are much shorter in length, significantly more common and less expensive.

reel3

Unfortunately these later cards switched to using an external proprietary dongle to connect to the primary video card and works in the same way as early 3DFX voodoo cards in connecting externally. Unfortunately the dongles can be hard to find and the image takes a slight quality hit compared to the internal method. The plus side is these cards can be used with virtually any primary video card.

Besides video the Reelmagic card also streams audio directly from the CD through the 1/4″ audio jack so be sure to connect this to your sound cards line in and then use the mixer to output all sound to your speakers since your sound card is still going to be doing most of the music and sound effects while your RM card will be streaming sound from the FMVs from the CD.

There weren’t very many games released that were able to take advantage of the Reelmagic cards and unfortunately these days they tend to be hard to find. Also finding a reliable list of confirmed games also seems to be a challenge. Below I’ve compiled a list of games believed to have Reelmagic versions produced though I can only confirm the games with a “*” placed after the title. If I’ve placed a “#” after a title that means I strongly believe this game was never produced as a Reelmagic version.

 Matinee
MPC Wizard
The Nature of Hunting
Learning Fly Fishing
Mozart Visits Yosemite
Mozart Visits Grand Canyon
Mozart Visits Yellowstone
Mozart Visits Hawaii
Animal Kingdom
WorldView
Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia
The Sporting News
20th Century Video Almanac
Police Quest 4 #
Man Enough
Return to Zork *
Dragon’s Lair *
Video Cube-Space
SoundTrack
Space Ace *
The Lord of the Rings
The Phychotron *
Conspiracy with Donald Sutherland (AKA KGB)
The Horde *
Escape from Cyber City
Kings Quest VI #
Gabriel Knight #
Under a Killing Moon #
Brain Dead at 13
Dragons Lair II

In my experience these games usually only came in jewel case form and clearly have “Reelmagic” printed on both the cover and the CD’s themselves.

reel4

reel5

reel6

Although the Reelmagic versions of games can be hard to find and may require sifting through tens or hundreds of jewel case versions on EBay once found the Reelmagic versions tend to sell for about the same price as the regular versions likely due to the general ignorance that these are even “special” versions. Reelmagic versions of games also make calls to the Reelmagic card requiring it to be present, as far as I can tell Reelmagic versions have also not been emulated in any way such as via DOSbox. There is also some reported incompatibilities with getting the later PCI versions of the Realmagic cards working with older RM games such as Return to Zork.

Supposedly the Reelmagic cards can also play VCD movies which were basically movies on CD and I’ve even read within the driver readme file that with the right CD drive you can watch CD-I format movies though I can’t confirm this at present.

Take note that the card also needs a driver install to function properly. I initially had a lot of trouble getting my card working due to resource conflicts with my sound card but driver version 2.01 offers a test which checks your system for conflicts and a menu to switch IRQ and DMA if needed.

reel13

Some of the games I tried also were a little odd to get running. Return to Zork for instance installed and was executed like most any game from the era. You put the CD in and run the install off the CD. After installation you simply run the EXE from the directory you installed to, simple. The Reelmagic version of Dragons Lair on the other hand does not allow you to run the game off the EXE on the CD without manually initializing the RM card. Actually when you install the RM drivers it also installs a file named “dragon” in the directory you installed the RM drivers in. With the CD in your drive the game will start if you run the “dragon” file from the RM directory. Space Ace works the same way except there is no special run file created for it when you install the RM drivers so you need to run “FMPDRV” in your RM directory to initialize the drivers before Space Ace will play by running the EXE on the CD.

Here are a few comparison gameplay shots.

reel10

Return to Zork

The Reelmagic version of Return to Zork features a smooth and better looking full screen intro when compared to the retail CD version. It also features more animated segments and some improved backgrounds effects as well as some changed conversations and puzzle’s.

My Dragons Lair Reelmagic version was captured on a 33mhz 486DLC with an ET4000 ISA video card. Windows version from the Dragons Lair Deluxe pack on a 550mhz K6-III+ and a AGP Voodoo Banshee.

reel11

reel12

In the end would I recommend a retro PC enthusiast to pick up a Reelmagic or later Realmagic card? I’d have to say no. The later cheaper Realmagic cards are a bit questionable with dongles being hard to find and reports of game incompatibilities while the earlier cards are just hard to come across and expensive when you finally do. If you did come across one cheap then by all means but I cant recommend searching one out especially with the number of games supported being so low and hard to find.

Awhile back LGR reviews, a very popular YouTube channel that covers retro computing posted a video about building a 486 machine. It was certainly a competent machine, faux woodgrain aside but one comment in the video stuck out to me. At one point it is mentioned somewhat offhand that the AMD 486 CPU’s were known to be slightly faster then their Intel counterparts. I never had heard this before and became quite curious to the matter. After some Google searching I still could not find any reference to this. Finally I created a thread over at the VOGONS forum on the matter and it was the general consensus that the AMD chips were basically clones and performance was virtually identical. It was even brought up by a few posters that the AMD chips seemed to have a few software incompatibilities for unknown reasons with OS/2 and Netware cited as examples.

With this information in hand I decided to do my own testing and thus we have this article and the CPU face off. My goal with these tests was to perform a number of benchmarks on both CPU’s to see if there is any actual performance difference and second to attempt to install OS/2 Warp using various CPU’s to check compatibility. So lets take a look at the CPU’s we will be testing.

dx2fo1

The two main CPU’s will be testing are the Intel and AMD 486 DX2-66 chips. These are classic 486 CPU’s both running at the exact same speed. Supposedly the AMD chip is a virtual clone of the Intel model and both of these chips have 8kb of on board L1 write-through cache though both companies also produced enhanced write-back cache versions. To keep things interesting I also decided to throw in a Cyrix DX2-66 which was also a popular CPU manufacturer at the time. Supposedly the Cyrix chip is an independent design from the AMD or Intel parts but specs wise is identical with a 66mhz running speed and 8kb of L1 write-through cache.

GIGA-BYTE-TECHNOLOGY-CO-LTD-486-GA-486VF-1The motherboard I’ll be using for these tests is the Ga-486VF rev 8B socket 3 board using a SIS chipset with 20mb of FPM RAM and 256kb of L2 cache. I’m using a CL-GD5426 based VLB video card for video output and a generic ISA I/0 controller. Since a sound card would be unused for these tests I left it off the board.

Before the benchmarking tests I wanted to give the results of the compatibility tests using OS/2 warp version 4. There are many versions of OS/2 and warp ver. 4 was all I had on hand so keep in mind earlier versions may show incompatibilities that ver. 4 does not. After my testing I found that OS/2 warp ver. 4 loaded up and ran fine on both the Intel and AMD DX2-66 chip. Warp ver. 4 however did fail to load running the Cyrix DX2-66 and on loading the OS consistently threw an error and halted the loading process.

cyrixos2error

Lastly we have the benchmark results running the standard gambit of DOS benchmarks.

dx2 mashup

So according to the results of several benchmarks as seen above the AMD and Intel chips are virtually identical performance wise. The Intel chip in most cases barely pulls ahead of the AMD chip by a hair but usually this is a less then 1 FPS difference and within the margin of error. The Cyrix chip on the other hand lagged behind a little on three out of five benchmark tests lagging by 10 FPS in quake and almost 5 FPS in DOOM. The Cyrix DX2 barely pulled ahead in PCP bench and for whatever reason was given a higher score in Speedsys test.

So what’s the final verdict? From everything the benchmarks have shown me plus personal experience and online research the Intel and AMD DX2-66mhz chips are virtually identical performance wise. The Intel does seem to be the slightest bit faster but never even exceeded more then 1 FPS or point difference in any test. I don’t think this difference is even perceivable by a human user. The Cyrix chip though was the clear loser falling behind the Intel/AMD duo and having incompatibility issues with OS/2. In most usage situations I think the Cyrix 486 would perform just fine and the average user would see little difference but given the choice an Intel or AMD DX2 is certainly the way to go. Personally between the Intel and the AMD I would choose the Intel but they appear to be identical performance wise and very close in overall software compatibility. As I stated earlier the AMD chip may have compatibility issues with older versions of OS/2 and Netware, another piece of software the AMD chip is said to have issues with but not tested by myself.

 

 

The G400 was Matrox’s “Gamer card”. For years the company was known for producing graphics cards like the Matrox Mystique and G200 which offered superior 2D image quality but generally fell behind the competition when it came to producing high FPS or reliable and compatible drivers. The G400 released in 1999 was Matrox’s answer to this and offered 16 and 32 bit color modes in the excellent image quality Matrox was known for as well as touting an AGP x4 interface. The high end of the G400 family was the G400 MAX with 32MB of 200mhz SGRAM and a core clock speed of 150mhz giving competition like the TNT2 and Voodoo 3 a run for their money.

One feature the G400 featured that the competition did not was hardware support for EMBM or Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping. This is a method of detailing textures which a few games at the time supported. Some of these games like “Expendable” also known as “Millennium Soldier: Expendable” could only be run with EMBM mode on by a Matrox card of the G400 family as well as a few other Matrox cards. In this article I want to take a look at the fastest of the G400 family, the G400 MAX as well as the game Expendable and just show what the EMBM did as well as discus at the end a recent patch that allows you to experience this effect on non Matrox cards.

First lets take a look at the card in question.

g400max

Readers may recognize this image as I once had my G400 MAX installed in my dual Tualatin machine. The MAX is the fastest of the G400 cards which includes later versions such as the G450 and thus was the preferred card to play games such as Expendables with EMBM enabled. The G400 MAX is usually fairly easy to spot among other G400 cards on places like EBay due to the fact that unlike the other cards it came with a cooling fan stock. The G400 MAX only comes in AGP form so make sure your motherboard that your using has an AGP slot.

As I said before the hardware EMBM feature of this card was supposed to be a big selling point as other cards on the market were not able to perform this ability. Nvidia didn’t have EMBM features until the Geforce 3 several years later. Unfortunately the list of games that supported this feature is short and usually the effect isn’t used to a large extent and many times limited to making water look more realistic. I’ve read gamers have really struggled to see any difference when EMBM is activated in a number of games.

Here is an old list from Matrox of games that were slated to support EMBM, though if all of these titles did implement it is questionable.

Ace of Angels™
Aquarius™
Battlezone II: Combat Commander™
Battle Isle: The Andosia war
BITM
Carmageddon®: TDR 2000™
Colin McRae Rally 2
Descent 3™
Descent 3™: Mercenary
Destroyer Command™
Drakan™
Dungeon Keeper™ 2
Echelon®
Echelon®: Wind Warriors
Expendable™
F1 World Grand Prix
Far Gate
Fur Fighters
Hard Truck II™
Hired Team™ Gold
Hired Team™: Trial
Incoming Forces
Parkan: Iron Strategy™
Ka-52 Team Alligator™
Kyodai
Off Road: Redneck Racing
Offshore2000: Pro Surf Tour
Planet Heat
PowerRender™ engine V 3.0*
Private Wars™
Rollcage® Stage II
Silent Hunter II
Silent Space (cancelled)
Silex engine
Slave Zero™
Speed Busters™
Spirit of Speed 1937
Sub Command
Jugular® Street Luge Racing
Totaled™
Warm Up
Wild Metal Country™*

Command & Conquer Renegade also used it for water effects but it was not restricted to using Matrox cards and that’s the catch with EMBM. It’s not that later cards could not perform the feature but many times the game executable would search for a Matrox card when executed and if one was not found the game would not run or would not run with EMBM enabled even if you had a EMBM capable card installed like the Geforce 3. This is what made having something like the G400 MAX in a collection interesting since it was the only means to fully experience some of these titles. Now lets talk about the game in question. Expendables was released by RAGE in 1999 and was an arcade port. From what I understand it was only released in “big box” form in Europe and not North America. I had to import my version from the UK. Expendable is an example of a game that put EMBM to decent use and it’s very noticeable in the water effects as well as some other game textures when activated. For a long time it was also a game that could only run with EMBM effects enabled if run on a Matrox card.20160822_231222

20160822_231233

The game is a Win 98 game but will run on later operating systems. There is also a Dreamcast port of the game titled “Millennium Soldier: Expendable” but from what I can tell it is graphically inferior to the PC port with no EMBM effects, lower resolutions and missing a few effects such as the video billboard seen in stage 1.

The game itself comes with a minimal storyline about aliens or some such thing but really the story isn’t important as the game is just a fun overhead run and gun shooter. The game is done all in 3D polygons but has actually aged pretty well and looks good in my opinion. It’s one of those mindless games where you just shut your mind off and shoot stuff up. On the downside the controls are horrible. Maybe this control scheme works fine on the Dreamcast controller but on a PC it’s frustrating and creates a lot of unneeded difficulty. The best I can describe it is sort of like Resident Evil tank like controls where up and down move you forward and back but left and right rotate your character. The game gives you plenty of options form keyboard and mouse to gamepad but I cant seem to get the full hang of the controls leading to many instances of inadvertently walking into laser fences or onto land mines. Despite the often times infuriating controls the game is still a lot of fun to play and has many levels and interesting bosses.

EMBM though is not activated by default but requires a patch. before that though let me go over the system I used to play this game.

The system I put together for this game almost deserves an article of its own. The motherboard I went with is a very late socket A board, the Asrock K7VT4A PRO. This board sports all the features of a late socket A board such as ATA 133, SATA, AGP X8, DDR memory support and support for Barton core socket A CPU’s.

20160614_195124

For a CPU I went with the Barton core AMD Athlon XP 2500+ running at 1.833mhz and sporting 512kb of L2 cache on the CPU. When looking at the Pentium II requirements for Expendable this is quite an overkill but I wanted to make sure I maxed the Matrox GPU out and left some power to experiment later with non Matrox cards. I’m also running Windows 98SE, 512mb of DDR 400 RAM and a Maxtor ATA 133 hard drive with DMA activated. I’m also running a Diamond Monster MX300 sound card that uses the Vortex2 chip since Expendable takes advantage of this sound chip and its 3D positional audio.

Once you have your setup ready and installed Expendable from the CD you need to do a few things to get the game running with EMBM enabled. first off make sure your using an older version of the Matrox video drivers else you may encounter issues with selecting resolutions. I used drivers ver. 5.52.015

Once those are installed I also suggest getting PowerStrip version 2.78. PowerStrip is a graphics utility that lets you make all kind of tweaks. Go into advanced settings and disable V-sync. disabling this will boost your framerate but increase the possibility of screen tearing though in my many playthroughs of Expendable with V-sync disabled I noticed no tearing.

Next you’ll need to download the EMBM patch from here. From there you simply unzip the patch into the main Expendable directory and your pretty much set. You will get two executables one labeled Expendable and the other “Go”. Run the Expendable.exe first to setup your game. Keep in mind that due to the limit of 32MB of RAM on the G400 MAX you are limited to playing in 1024 x 768 resolution in 32 bit color mode. Anything higher and your game will crash. This is also where you setup your audio so if your using a Vortex2 chip be sure to select that. After this exit out and run the Go.exe and your game should start. keep in mind the patch is oddly picky. I kept getting crashes and memory errors until I updated my motherboards chipset.

So what does all this work get us? the turning off of V-sync helps offset the FPS hit we take from enabling EMBM while enabling EMBM improves textures on some vehicles as well as adds effects such as tread marks in the ground and most notably changes the look of water effects. They go from being a muddy almost mist look to wavy blue.

NO EMBM ENABLED
exp

 

EMBM ENABLED
expembm

 

There’s also a few other very minor changes such as the video billboard will now also display the Matrox logo.

So as I mentioned earlier many of these games such as Expendable could only be played on Matrox cards that supported EMBM due to the fact that the game checked for the presence of a Matrox card in the system. Recently a member over at the Vogons forum put together a modified patch that will trick the game into thinking a Matrox card was installed thus letting one use later cards like the Geforce 3 and 4 that have EMBM capabilities but also faster GPU’s and vastly more RAM.

this patch can be found here.

I’ve tested this patch on this same system with a Geforce 4 ti4200 and the game played perfectly. below are some benchmarking results I took using the games built in timedemo. the results compare a Matrox G400 MAX at 1024 x 768 with EMBM enabled and my Geforce 4 ti4200 at 1920 x 1440 with EMBM enabled.

Keep in mind that many of the other early EMBM capable games may also require a Matrox card and have not been patched to use other brand cards so it still may be worth keeping a G400 MAX handy depending on what you want to play.

The time demo for Expendable can be enabled by making a shortcut to the “go.exe” file and entering properties and editing the shortcut by adding -timedemo

G400 MAX, EMBM ENABLED, NO V-SYNC

Running at  – 1024 x 768 x 32
Total Time  – 234 Seconds
Gameframes  – 11226
Lowest FPS  – 17 fps
Highest FPS – 85 fps
Average FPS – 47.957265 fps

GEFORCE 4 TI4200, EMBM ENABLED, NO V-SYNC

Running at  – 1920 x 1440 x 32
Total Time  – 147 Seconds
Gameframes  – 11226
Lowest FPS  – 21 fps
Highest FPS – 131 fps
Average FPS – 76.258503 fps

dlc3

Previously on this blog we have discussed both what I think is an “ultimate” or at least near “ultimate” 386 PC in the Anatomy of a 386 article and we also talked about pushing certain sockets beyond their intended scope such as with the 486 and Socket 3 motherboards and pushing their limits  and I wanted to do something similar with the 386. In this article were going to take a look at the Cyrix 486DLC chip, a drop in replacement chip meant to upgrade a 386 class motherboard with a 486 class CPU. Were going to look at one of the more common DLC chips, the Cyrix DLC-40, run some benchmarks and put it up against the king of the 386 chips the AMD 386-40.

First lets take a look at the test PC and then the CPU’s will be testing.

dlc4

This is the 386 PC will be testing the CPU’s on.

dlc7

I could not identify the motherboard but it’s based off the Opti 495XLC chipset and is loaded with 128kb of L2 cache and 8MB of FPM RAM. For video I am using a Tseng Labs ET4000 ISA video card and I have a Sound Blaster 2.0 installed as well although it will be unused for the benchmark tests. My memory settings are fairly standard and I didn’t mess with them much from the defaults. AT bus divider set at 5, memory timings set at 2-1-1-1 and wait states set to 1.

So lets take a look at the two CPU’s will be testing today.

First up is the king of the 386 chips, the famous and beloved AMD 386DX-40.

dlc6

The 386DX-40 was a very reliable 32 bit 386 chip made by AMD and is very well regarded for its speed and reliability. This is the fastest true 386 made and is overall very capable. It though, like all true 386 chips has no L1 cache memory on board.

The second CPU we will be putting it up against is the Cyrix 486DLC-40.

dlc5

The DLC-40 created by Cyrix was intended to be a drop in upgrade CPU for 32 bit 386 class motherboards which in essence gave 386 PC users a 486 CPU upgrade. It essentially is a supped up 386 with 486 code inserted and 1kb of L1 cache added on the chip. There was also a more common 33mhz version like this guy.

dlc33m

as well as later DLC chips made by Texas Instruments and IBM which added even more L1 cache. The fastest of these chips is an IBM triple clocked DLC rated at 100mhz that supposedly is about equal to an Intel 486DX-66. Due to licensing agreements though I believe IBM was only able to sell these chips imbedded as part of a motherboard or upgrade kit.

There are also SLC variants which are 16/32 bit hybrids designed to be more compatible with older motherboards where as DLC variants are true 32 bit.

The on board L1 cache memory of the DLC is a huge advantage over the AMD 386-40 so on all the benchmarks I tested the DLC chip twice, once with the cache enabled and one again with it disable so we can see how much of a difference this makes.

The unidentified 386 class motherboard I’m using is a later model and supports the DLC chips in BIOS. Here is a shot of the specs as I boot up.

dlc8

Notice the BIOS recognizes the DLC chip as under “main processor” it is listed as a Cx486DLC. Many older 386 motherboards  may not recognize the DLC chip properly and simply report it as a 80486SX. You may also need to run a setup utility with these older boards to fully utilize the DLC chip.

My BIOS also has the option to enable/disable the internal L1 cache on the CPU though for reasons I cant figure out this option does not work and the l1 cache is enabled automatically regardless of how it is set here.

dlc1

 

Failing this you can always disable/enable the internal L1 cache via software. I used the Cyrix cx486 utility which allows you to easily enable/disable the L1 cache by the C button. Just be sure to hit W to write your choice to the registers before exiting the program.

dlc2

So without further adieu we have the benchmarks. The programs I used were all pretty standard, 3D Bench, PCP Bench and DOOM. Below is a bar chart to better illustrate the performance of the two chips and I also added a 33mhz Intel 486 results from a similarly spec’ed 486 machine using the same amount of L2 cache and the same video card to compare.

dlcgraph

The results are basically what we would expect with the DLC handily defeating the AMD 386-40. DOOM seems to benefit the most from the L1 cache as the difference between the 386-40 and DLC with cache disabled is only .6 FPS but with cache enabled its a 2.5 FPS difference.

you’ll also notice the DLC does pretty well compared to the Intel 486DX-33 even tying it in PCP Bench. After some optimization I managed even more performance gain.

After setting wait states to 0 and the AT bus divider to 3 I was able to get the following results out of the cache enabled DLC-40

3D Bench    – 22.1

PCP Bench –  5.5

DOOM        –  10

You can see with these results the DLC surpasses the DX-33 in all but DOOM.

graphdlc2

The folks over at Red Hill Computing whom I often refer to in my research seem to really love this chip and claim it to be “vastly superior” to a 486DX-33 system though I would have to somewhat disagree. In a very optimized system the DLC can match or beat the DX-33 but I wouldn’t say it’s as fast clock for clock and I wouldn’t call a few frames per second advantage “vastly superior”. At the time though they would of been correct in that verbiage from a fiscal point of view as the DLC was vastly cheaper then a Intel 486DX-33 allowing the buyer to purchase more RAM.

I’m very curious how much the added cache of the later DLC chips such as the ones from TI and IBM affected performance and that may be the bases of an eventual revision to this article. The DLC does do what it claims to do and does increase performance of a 386 to 486 levels as well as being vastly cheaper then an Intel 486 but keep in mind it was still restricted by the 386 architecture and limited to the amount of RAM it could use. Possibly not a bad option for the budget user that already owned a 386 machine but holding out for the pricy 486DX-66 would of been a smarter move for the long run in my opinion.

FDISKformat

A place for the pc collector

I ❤ Old Games!

Retrogaming & other stuff

Waltorious Writes About Games

Game-related ramblings.

NekoJonez's Gaming Blog

A Journey Through A Gamer's Life

Old School Game Blog

Amiga enthusiasm, retro gaming passion

Evelynn Star

Lynn talks about video games, records and books ...

Retro Megabit

Sharing My Retro Video Game Collection.

133MHz's Junk Box

Random electronics and gaming crap

SNES A Day

Every game, every day

Too Many Games

A blog talking about games

Retrocosm's Vintage Computing, Tech & Scale RC Blog

Random mutterings on retro computing, old technology, some new, plus radio controlled scale modelling.

The PewPew Diaries.

Work(s) in Progress!

The Martian Oddity

Video Games and other weird stuff!

1001Up

1001 video games and beyond

retro computing and gaming plus a little more

sparcie

retro computers and stuff

jispylicious

Stay Jispy!

%d bloggers like this: